Brazil has strengthened and broadened existing legislation on femicides, but the new law is no guarantee authorities can lower the country’s high rate of violence against women.
On March 9, President Dilma Rousseff signed a new femicide law that carries a minimum prison sentence of 12 years for homicides resulting from domestic violence, reported BBC. Penalties are set even higher for the murder of girls under the age of 14 or women over the age of 60, as well as for pregnant women. The law also expands the definition of femicide to include any crime involving domestic violence or gender discrimination.
On March 8, Rousseff had announced the law would be passed during a speech on International Women’s Day, according to O Globo. The Brazilian president said on average 15 women are killed every day in the country. Rousseff added this legislation is in keeping with Brazil’s “zero tolerance policy on violence against women.”
Nevertheless, the UN Representative of Women in Brazil, Nadine Gasman, said enforcement of the new law may be hindered by a “culture of machismo,” reported BBC Brasil.
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Brazil’s new femicide legislation takes aim at the high level of gender-based violence in Brazil. According to the country’s 2012 Map of Violence Against Women (pdf), Brazil ranked seventh out of 84 countries in terms of prevalence of femicides, with a murder rate of 4.4 per 100,000 women.
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Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if the new law will have a tangible impact on femicide rates in Brazil. According to Rousseff, 15 other countries in Latin America have laws on the books that specifically address gender violence. However, eight of the 12 countries with the highest rates of femicides from 2004 to 2009 worldwide are in Latin America or the Caribbean, according to a 2012 report by Small Arms Survey (pdf). As Gasman alluded to, stiffer laws must be accompanied by adequate implementation, or else women will continue to suffer high rates of victimization.
It is difficult to judge the correlation between organized crime and femicides in Brazil. However, a 2014 report by the Brookings Institute found that the department of Amazonas was a “hotspot” for femicides, and also registered the highest number of sex trafficking cases in 2012. While sophisticated criminal groups typically orchestrate transnational human and sex trafficking networks in Latin America, it is nevertheless unclear whether areas in Brazil with greater organized crime activity also have higher indices of femicides.
From a regional perspective, the UN Human Rights Office has identified the growth of organized crime structures as a principal cause for the high levels of violence against women in Latin America. An Associated Press investigation in 2014 found members of El Salvador’s two largest street gangs, the Barrio 18 and MS13, frequently use rape and femicide as a way to terrorize communities.